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Haptics Startup Wins AlphaLab Gear Hardware Cup Finals

Somatic Labs develops headwear to improve situational awareness with vibrations

1 min read
Winners of this year's AlphaLab Gear Hardware Cup.
Winners of this year's AlphaLab Gear Hardware Cup. Grand-prize winner is Member Shantanu Bala (left) for his startup, Somatic Labs.
Photo: Kathleen Lassiter

THE INSTITUTEMember Shantanu Bala’s startup, Somatic Labs, a haptics developer, is the winner of the AlphaLab Gear Hardware Cup. The company beat out five other finalists in the competition, held this month in Pittsburgh.

Somatic Labs won for its product Zorb, a software platform that incorporates haptic feedback into helmets and headsets to increase the wearer’s spatial awareness. Bala says the haptics will alert users about their surroundings, such as by vibrating in the direction of an oncoming car when they are crossing the street. The platform fits into the foam padding on a hardhat, baseball cap, helmet, or headset.

The company received the grand prize of US $50,000, provided by Startbot, a venture capital firm that funds robotics startups. IEEE Entrepreneurship partnered with AlphaLab Gear, a nonprofit company that accelerates and incubates hardware startups, to host the competition.

Each startup gave a four-minute pitch about its products, followed by a question-and-answer session with the judges, who included venture capitalists and investors including Josh McElhattan, Startbot founder; and Melissa Withers, cofounder of RevUp Capital.


Somatic Labs offers more than 100 haptic effects in a JavaScript library supported on Windows, MacOS, and most Linux products.

Before helping to found the company, Bala researched haptic and assistive technologies for the blind and visually impaired at Arizona State University, in Tempe.

The Somatic technology could prevent hearing loss in industrial workers, because they could simultaneously receive instructions through haptic feedback while wearing noise-canceling headphones.

It also could provide a new way for soldiers to communicate. The hand signals soldiers use in combat situations are sometimes confusing and can be misunderstood, Bala points out.

Bala is working to improve the integration of the platform into headwear.

People interested in the technology can request a demo on the company’s website.

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